BRAVO Principals Lead Through Relationships

BRAVO Principal! Building Relationships with Actions that Value Others 
By Sandra Harris
(Routledge/Eye on Education, 2016 – Learn more)

schug-dennisReviewed by Dennis Schug

Do you remember your administrative internship? While I don’t recall the day-to-day tasks with any level of specificity, I’ll never forget that this was when I first realized the importance of strong mentors.

While my sponsoring mentor played a significant role in shaping the leader I was learning to become, he also had a way of modeling why it’s important to seek out every opportunity to grow as a leader.

In one particular instance, he and I were responsible for initiating a new program in our school district. The outside liaison for that program was not necessarily who I expected.

51keqnfmpbl-_sx331_bo1204203200_He was an accomplished former coach and teacher, who went on to become the principal, and eventually superintendent of a large school district. He had a physically imposing presence with a deep baritone voice. In this next phase of his career, he chose to work in an organization responsible for introducing formal education to three and four-year old children and their families, through universal pre-kindergarten.

Connecting with this unlikely mentor was well-timed, because I distinctly recall questioning my decision to leave the classroom for school administration. I regularly woke up in the middle of the night wondering if I had what it took to be a school leader.

Over the course of the program planning sessions, my mentor consistently sought ways to bring me and this veteran administrator together. My mentor saw my struggle and knew I needed to listen to the wisdom of others to shape my decision.

We held countless meetings on programming logistics, budgeting and communications among other items, and my mentor brought me to the point of asking a question I had been wrestling with on my own:

What does it take it be a successful school leader?

It took quite some time for me to muster the courage to ask, mostly for fear of hearing an answer that would disqualify me from ever becoming a success.

The answer from this hulking presence was one I will not soon forget. He looked me in the eyes and said:

Anyone can run a school, sign paperwork, and manage a budget. But school leadership is about one thing, and one thing only: RELATIONSHIPS. If you make that your focus, every day, you will be a successful administrator. It ALL comes down to RELATIONSHIPS.

Ten years later, now a seasoned administrator myself, I read BRAVO Principal written by Sandra Harris. The acronym BRAVO, which stand for Building Relationships with Actions that Value Others, took me back to the moment I asked that question and got an answer that remains with me each day.

The BRAVO Principal

According to Sandra Harris, BRAVO Principals do 8 things:

Establish trust.

They model and celebrate the vision of a learning organization, centering first and foremost on the success of all students. They provide time and space for collaboration, trusting teachers to determine, with one another, what this looks like. Rather than use power to force decisions, they empower teachers to work collaboratively to make decisions that keep students at the center of the school vision. BRAVO Principals give away power and in turn, earn trust.

Support others.

This requires regular and ongoing reflection on just how personal our profession is. BRAVO Principals value the notion that being visible and present in the lives of others is directly correlated with investing in the emotional accounts of others. Making themselves available, having a sensitivity to how communication is processed, using tools to “meet communities where they are,” and opening and encouraging strong lines of two-way communication are all marks of a BRAVO Principal.

Respect others.

Simply put, BRAVO Principals make kindness the centerpiece to their actions, even when there’s a need to confront behaviors that don’t align with the school culture. They recognize the role creativity plays in arriving at difficult decisions in challenging times involving students, staff, and community. And they place a premium on working together in the spirit of continual growth and improvement.

Demonstrate cultural responsiveness.

BRAVO Principals confront their beliefs about themselves, value diversity, and challenge assumptions and mental models. They strive to build a community that fosters a sense of belonging through their actions. And they fearlessly engage in challenging conversations. BRAVO Principals recognize that school is a place to practice leadership that transcends the school walls.

Challenge the imagination.

Leadership isn’t often credited for being creative. However, school leaders who embrace solving problems or alleviating concerns before they become problems reap the benefits of what results: relationships. While change is a constant in education, it’s also one of our greatest challenges, because it is so highly personal and personalized. BRAVO Principals focus on planning, listening, resolving conflicts, and embracing “next steps” together for the sake of growth; they model making decisions in the best interests of students.

Nurture achievement.

BRAVO Principals are focused on leading the learning, nurturing achievement, and supporting educators’ risk-taking in pursuit of high standards. Being willing to push outer limits on taking instructional risks is a quality that BRAVO Principals embody in their every action, recognizing that modeling risk-taking raises questions that challenge the status quo.

Demonstrate courage.

Leadership is not about being perfect; it’s about being a work-in-progress who strives for forward motion and continual improvement. By modeling this relentless pursuit of progress with integrity, BRAVO Principals are true to themselves and in turn, are true to the vision of building a culture that’s centered on what’s best for each student and his or her success.

Make the world a better place.

Leadership is about serving others in a learning community. Leaders who embrace this honor not only serve students and a school community, but their actions become their impact. The results of school leaders focusing on trust, support, respect, cultural responsiveness, creativity, achievement, and courage becomes their legacy.

Attention to the human side

In this time of increasing and unprecedented demands on schools, it’s easy to abandon things that do not yield immediate tangible results. However, the best school leaders realize that attention to the human details involved in our work is what will become the catalyst for positive outcomes, for our students.

The book BRAVO Principal with its reflection questions and support exercises is an effective resource for keeping school leaders centered on what matters most to promote the success of each of our students in our learning organizations.

Dennis Schug is in his 10th year of educational leadership, following a decade as a classroom teacher, on Long Island, New York. As a school leader, he believes in the value of communication, collaboration, and professional learning to build capacity and engage all members of a learning organization. Connect with Dennis via Twitter @schug_dennis and on Voxer at dschug597, and follow his blog, Learning Leadership at


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